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In music theory, polyphony is a generic term for ways of making music in which several voices (or melodies) sound at the same time. Polyphony is therefore the counterpart to unanimity or monophony , which was the norm in the history of Western music up to the 9th century .

The most important forms are the homophony (in the homophonic set or chord set with main and secondary voices) and polyphony (polyphony: polyphonic set with melodically and rhythmically independent voices). Heterophony is more of an exception than the rule in Western music making. In English, polyphony is called polyphony , in German the meaning of polyphony is usually more narrowly defined.


Polyphony existed in instrumental music , for example with drone strings , long before people began to sing polyphonically. The so-called crota or rota was an old string instrument with a flat bridge and mostly three strings and without the side indentations of the modern violin body. As a result, the bow was forced to strike all three strings at the same time , so that the keynote and the fifth sounded like a bagpipe along with the melody played on the first string .

It is only with the development of the organum that vocal polyphony sets in. The predominant polyphonic musical movements are homophony and polyphony . In addition, there is also heterophony , which occurs much less frequently in Western musical practice.

to form

A special form of polyphony can be found from the middle of the 17th century in works for melody instruments without accompaniment. A distinction is made between a manifest and a latent polyphony. Most important are the solo works by Johann Sebastian Bach (BWV 1001-1013) for violin, violoncello and flute. Manifest polyphony means that two or more notes are actually sounding at the same time. These are z. B. brought about by double stops in the strings. Latent polyphony means that the lines can be heard and understood like a two-part or multi-part sentence.

Sentences for several vocal ( SATB ) or instrumental parts are often summarized in the notation in accolades (also: "systems").

Polyphony exists not only in western music, but in different cultures. For example, the French-Israeli ethnomusicologist Simha Arom examined African forms of polyphony and polyrhythmics .


Individual evidence

  1. Article "Music". In: Götzinger, E .: Reallexicon of German antiquities. Leipzig 1885., pp. 674-698. at Zeno.org .
  2. Simha Arom : African Polyphony and Polyrhythm: Musical Structure and Methodology . Cambridge University Press, 1991. ISBN 0-521-24160-X .